I had another "pinch me; I can't believe it" moment last week. When I was surfing the web, I suddenly remembered a song that I had heard in June 1972 while driving from Ottawa to Toronto. It was a hit in Canada for a few weeks. I loved it. I never knew the name of the song and I was pretty sure that the artists were Canadian one-hit wonders. Every few years in the 1980s and 1990s, I thought about that song and wanted to buy it. But I couldn't think how. But what I did remember was this line:
You know she's gone and she won't be back, you must be a happy man.
So I googled it and found the name of the song, "Dunrobin's Gone," the name of the band, "Brave Belt," and even a link so that I could buy it. I've played it about ten times already. Moreover, one stranger was kind enough to write out the lyrics for free, and then another stranger corrected his lyrics, so that now I can sing along with it. I actually got the song for free (pardon me--this is an economics blog--"at a zero price") because the web site I found gave two hits free to every new user. But my consumer surplus that these strangers helped create is easily over $100.
I have deliberately used the word "marvel" to shock the reader out of the complacency with which we often take the working of this mechanism for granted. I am convinced that if it were the result of deliberate human design, and if the people guided by the price changes understood that their decisions have significance far beyond their immediate aim, this mechanism would have been acclaimed as one of the greatest triumphs of the human mind. Its misfortune is the double one that it is not the product of human design and that the people guided by it usually do not know why they are made to do what they do. But those who clamor for "conscious direction"--and who cannot believe that anything which has evolved without design (and even without our understanding it) should solve problems which we should not be able to solve consciously--should remember this: The problem is precisely how to extend the span of out utilization of resources beyond the span of the control of any one mind; and therefore, how to dispense with the need of conscious control, and how to provide inducements which will make the individuals do the desirable things without anyone having to tell them what to do.